The Silver Hatchet by A. Conan Doyle
On the 3rd of December 1861, Dr. Otto von
Hopstein, Regius Professor of Comparative Anatomy
of the University of Buda-Pesth, and Curator
of the Academical Museum, was foully and
brutally murdered within a stone-throw of the
entrance to the college quadrangle.
Besides the eminent position of the victim and
his popularity amongst both students and townsfolk,
there were other circumstances which excited
public interest very strongly, and drew general
attention throughout Austria and Hungary to this
murder. The Pesther Abendblatt of the following
day had an article upon it, which may still be
consulted by the curious, and from which I
translate a few passages giving a succinct account
of the circumstances under which the crime was
committed, and the peculiar features in the case
which puzzled the Hungarian police.
"It appears," said that very excellent paper,
"that Professor von Hopstein left the University
about half-past four in the afternoon, in order to
meet the train which is due from Vienna at three
minutes after five. He was accompanied by his
old and dear friend, Herr Wilhelm Schlessinger,
sub-Curator of the Museum and Privat-docent of
Chemistry. The object of these two gentlemen in
meeting this particular train was to receive the
legacy bequeathed by Graf von Schulling to the
University of Buda-Pesth. It is well known that
this unfortunate nobleman, whose tragic fate is still
fresh in the recollection of the public, left his
unique collection of mediæval weapons, as well as
several priceless black-letter editions, to enrich the
already celebrated museum of his Alma Mater.
The worthy Professor was too much of an
enthusiast in such matters to intrust the reception
or care of this valuable legacy to any subordinate;
and, with the assistance of Herr Schlessinger, he
succeeded in removing the whole collection from
the train, and stowing it away in a light cart which
had been sent by the University authorities. Most
of the books and more fragile articles were packed
in cases of pine-wood, but many of the weapons
were simply done round with straw, so that considerable
labour was involved in moving them all.
The Professor was so nervous, however, lest any of
them should be injured, that he refused to allow
any of the railway employés (Eisenbahn-diener) to
assist. Every article was carried across the
platform by Herr Schlessinger, and handed to
Professor von Hopstein in the cart, who packed it
away. When everything was in, the two gentlemen,
still faithful to their charge, drove back to
the University, the Professor being in excellent
spirits, and not a little proud of the physical
exertion which he had shown himself capable of.
He made some joking allusion to it to Reinmaul,
the janitor, who, with his friend Schiffer, a
Bohemian Jew, met the cart on its return and
unloaded the contents. Leaving his curiosities
safe in the store-room, and locking the door, the
Professor handed the key to his sub-curator, and,
bidding every one good evening, departed in the
direction of his lodgings. Schlessinger took a last
look to reassure himself that all was right, and also
went off, leaving Reinmaul and his friend Schiffer
smoking in the janitor's lodge.
"At eleven o'clock, about an hour and a half
after Von Hopstein's departure, a soldier of the
14th regiment of Jäger, passing the front of the
University on his way to barracks, came upon the
lifeless body of the Professor lying a little way
from the side of the road. He had fallen upon his
face, with both hands stretched out. His head
was literally split in two halves by a tremendous
blow, which, it is conjectured, must have been
struck from behind, there remaining a peaceful
smile upon the old man's face, as if he had been still
dwelling upon his new archæological acquisition
when death had overtaken him. There is no other
mark of violence upon the body, except a bruise
over the left patella, caused probably by the fall.
The most mysterious part of the affair is that the
Professor's purse, containing forty-three gulden,
and his valuable watch have been untouched.
Robbery cannot, therefore, have been the incentive
to the deed, unless the assassins were disturbed
before they could complete their work.
"This idea is negatived by the fact that the
body must have lain at least an hour before any
one discovered it. The whole affair is wrapped in
mystery. Dr. Langemann, the eminent medico-jurist,
has pronounced that the wound is such as
might have been inflicted by a heavy sword-bayonet
wielded by a powerful arm. The police
are extremely reticent upon the subject, and it is
suspected that they are in possession of a clue
which may lead to important results."
Thus far the Pesther Abendblatt. The researches
of the police failed, however, to throw
the least glimmer of light upon the matter. There
was absolutely no trace of the murderer, nor could
any amount of ingenuity invent any reason which
could have induced any one to commit the
dreadful deed. The deceased Professor was a
man so wrapped in his own studies and pursuits
that he lived apart from the world, and had certainly
never raised the slightest animosity in any
human breast. It must have been some fiend,
some savage, who loved blood for its own sake,
who struck that merciless blow.
Though the officials were unable to come to any
conclusions upon the matter, popular suspicion
was not long in pitching upon a scapegoat. In
the first published accounts of the murder the
name of one Schiffer had been mentioned as
having remained with the janitor after the Professor's
departure. This man was a Jew, and
Jews have never been popular in Hungary. A
cry was at once raised for Schiffer's arrest; but
as there was not the slightest grain of evidence
against him, the authorities very properly refused
to consent to so arbitrary a proceeding. Reinmaul,
who was an old and most respected citizen, declared
solemnly that Schiffer was with him until
the startled cry of the soldier had caused them
both to run out to the scene of the tragedy.
No one ever dreamed of implicating Reinmaul
in such a matter; but still, it was rumoured that
his ancient and well-known friendship for Schiffer
might have induced him to tell a falsehood in
order to screen him. Popular feeling ran very
high upon the subject, and there seemed a danger
of Schiffer's being mobbed in the street, when an
incident occurred which threw a very different
light upon the matter.
On the morning of the 12th of December, just
nine days after the mysterious murder of the Professor,
Schiffer the Bohemian Jew was found lying
in the north-western corner of the Grand Platz
stone dead, and so mutilated that he was hardly
recognisable. His head was cloven open in very
much the same way as that of Von Hopstein, and
his body exhibited numerous deep gashes, as if the
murderer had been so carried away and transported
with fury that he had continued to hack the
lifeless body. Snow had fallen heavily the day
before, and was lying at least a foot deep all over
the square; some had fallen during the night, too,
as was evidenced by a thin layer lying like a
winding-sheet over the murdered man. It was
hoped at first that this circumstance might assist
in giving a clue by enabling the footsteps of the
assassin to be traced; but the crime had been
committed, unfortunately, in a place much frequented
during the day, and there were innumerable
tracks in every direction. Besides, the newly-fallen
snow had blurred the footsteps to such an
extent that it would have been impossible to draw
trustworthy evidence from them.
In this case there was exactly the same impenetrable
mystery and absence of motive which had
characterised the murder of Professor von Hopstein.
In the dead man's pocket there was found a note-book
containing a considerable sum in gold and
several very valuable bills, but no attempt had
been made to rifle him. Supposing that any one
to whom he had lent money (and this was the
first idea which occurred to the police) had taken
this means of evading his debt, it was hardly conceivable
that he would have left such a valuable
spoil untouched. Schiffer lodged with a widow
named Gruga, at 49 Marie Theresa Strasse, and
the evidence of his landlady and her children
showed that he had remained shut up in his room
the whole of the preceding day in a state of deep
dejection, caused by the suspicion which the populace
had fastened upon him. She had heard him
go out about eleven o'clock at night for his last
and fatal walk, and as he had a latch-key she had
gone to bed without waiting for him. His object
in choosing such a late hour for a ramble obviously
was that he did not consider himself safe if recognised
in the streets.
The occurrence of this second murder so shortly
after the first threw not only the town of Buda-Pesth,
but the whole of Hungary, into a terrible
state of excitement, and even of terror. Vague
dangers seemed to hang over the head of every
man. The only parallel to this intense feeling was
to be found in our own country at the time of the
Williams murders described by De Quincey. There
were so many resemblances between the cases ofVon Hopstein and of Schiffer that no one could
doubt that there existed a connection between the
two. The absence of object and of robbery, the
utter want of any clue to the assassin, and, lastly,
the ghastly nature of the wounds, evidently inflicted
by the same or a similar weapon, all
pointed in one direction. Things were in this
state when the incidents which I am now about
to relate occurred, and in order to make them
intelligible I must lead up to them from a fresh
point of departure.
Otto von Schlegel was a younger son of the
old Silesian family of that name. His father had
originally destined him for the army, but at the
advice of his teachers, who saw the surprising
talent of the youth, had sent him to the University
of Buda-Pesth to be educated in medicine. Here
young Schlegel carried everything before him,
and promised to be one of the most brilliant
graduates turned out for many a year. Though
a hard reader, he was no bookworm, but an active,
powerful young fellow, full of animal spirits and
vivacity, and extremely popular among his fellow-students.
The New Year examinations were at hand, and
Schlegel was working hard—so hard that even
the strange murders in the town, and the general
excitement in men's minds, failed to turn his
thoughts from his studies. Upon Christmas Eve,
when every house was illuminated, and the roar
of drinking songs came from the Bierkeller in
the Student-quartier, he refused the many invitations
to roystering suppers which were showered
upon him, and went off with his books under his
arm to the rooms of Leopold Strauss, to work with
him into the small hours of the morning.
Strauss and Schlegel were bosom friends. They
were both Silesians, and had known each other
from boyhood. Their affection had become proverbial
in the University. Strauss was almost as
distinguished a student as Schlegel, and there
had been many a tough struggle for academic
honours between the two fellow-countrymen, which
had only served to strengthen their friendship by
a bond of mutual respect. Schlegel admired the
dogged pluck and never-failing good temper of his
old playmate; while the latter considered Schlegel,
with his many talents and brilliant versatility, the
most accomplished of mortals.
The friends were still working together, the one
reading from a volume on anatomy, the other
holding a skull and marking off the various parts
mentioned in the text, when the deep-toned bell
of St. Gregory's church struck the hour of midnight.
"Hark to that!" said Schlegel, snapping up the
book and stretching out his long legs towards the
cheery fire. "Why, it's Christmas morning, old
friend! May it not be the last that we spend
"May we have passed all these confounded
examinations before another one comes!" answered
Strauss. "But see here, Otto, one bottle
of wine will not be amiss. I have laid one up
on purpose;" and with a smile on his honest
South German face, he pulled out a long-necked
bottle of Rhenish from amongst a pile of books
and bones in the corner.
"It is a night to be comfortable indoors," said
Otto von Schlegel, looking out at the snowy
landscape, "for 'tis bleak and bitter enough outside.
Good health, Leopold!"
"Lebe hoch!" replied his companion. "It is a
comfort indeed to forget sphenoid bones and
ethmoid bones, if it be but for a moment. And
what is the news of the corps, Otto? Has
Graube fought the Swabian?"
"They fight to-morrow," said Von Schlegel.
"I fear that our man will lose his beauty, for he
is short in the arm. Yet activity and skill may
do much for him. They say his hanging guard
"And what else is the news amongst the
students?" asked Strauss.
"They talk, I believe, of nothing but the
murders. But I have worked hard of late, as
you know, and hear little of the gossip."
"Have you had time," inquired Strauss, "to look
over the books and the weapons which our dear old
Professor was so concerned about the very day he met
his death? They say they are well worth a visit."
"I saw them to-day," said Schlegel, lighting his
pipe. "Reinmaul, the janitor, showed me over
the store-room, and I helped to label many of
them from the original catalogue of Graf Schulling's
museum. As far as we can see, there is but one
article missing of all the collection."
"One missing!" exclaimed Strauss. "That
would grieve old Von Hopstein's ghost. Is it
anything of value?"
"It is described as an antique hatchet, with a
head of steel and a handle of chased silver. We
have applied to the railway company, and no
doubt it will be found."
"I trust so," echoed Strauss; and the conversation
drifted off into other channels. The fire was
burning low and the bottle of Rhenish was empty
before the two friends rose from their chairs, and
Von Schlegel prepared to depart.
"Ugh! It's a bitter night!" he said, standing
on the doorstep and folding his cloak round him.
"Why, Leopold, you have your cap on. You are
not going out, are you?"
"Yes, I am coming with you," said Strauss,
shutting the door behind him. "I feel heavy," he
continued, taking his friend's arm, and walking
down the street with him. "I think a walk as far
as your lodgings, in the crisp frosty air, is just the
thing to set me right."
The two students went down Stephen Strasse
together and across Julien Platz, talking on a
variety of topics. As they passed the corner of
the Grand Platz, however, where Schiffer had been
found dead, the conversation turned naturally upon
"That's where they found him," remarked Von
Schlegel, pointing to the fatal spot.
"Perhaps the murderer is near us now," said
Strauss. "Let us hasten on."
They both turned to go, when Von Schlegel
gave a sudden cry of pain and stooped down.
"Something has cut through my boot!" he
cried; and feeling about with his hand in the
snow, he pulled out a small glistening battle-axe,
made apparently entirely of metal. It had been
lying with the blade turned slightly upwards, so
as to cut the foot of the student when he trod
"The weapon of the murderer!" he ejaculated.
"The silver hatchet from the museum!" cried
Strauss in the same breath.
There could be no doubt that it was both the
one and the other. There could not be two such
curious weapons, and the character of the wounds
was just such as would be inflicted by a similar
instrument. The murderer had evidently thrown
it aside after committing the dreadful deed, and
it had lain concealed in the snow some twenty
mètres from the spot ever since. It was extraordinary
that of all the people who had passed and
repassed none had discovered it; but the snow
was deep, and it was a little off the beaten track.
"What are we to do with it?" said Von
Schlegel, holding it in his hand. He shuddered
as he noticed by the light of the moon that the
head of it was all dabbled with dark-brown stains.
"Take it to the Commissary of Police," suggested
"He'll be in bed now. Still, I think you are
right. But it is nearly four o'clock. I will wait
until morning, and take it round before breakfast.
Meanwhile, I must carry it with me to my
"That is the best plan," said his friend; and
the two walked on together talking of the remarkable
find which they had made. When they
came to Schlegel's door, Strauss said good-bye,
refusing an invitation to go in, and walked briskly
down the street in the direction of his own
Schlegel was stooping down putting the key
into the lock, when a strange change came over
him. He trembled violently, and dropped the
key from his quivering fingers. His right hand
closed convulsively round the handle of the silver
hatchet, and his eye followed the retreating figure
of his friend with a vindictive glare. In spite of
the coldness of the night the perspiration streamed
down his face. For a moment he seemed to
struggle with himself, holding his hand up to his
throat as if he were suffocating. Then, with
crouching body and rapid, noiseless steps, he crept
after his late companion.
Strauss was plodding sturdily along through the
snow, humming snatches of a student song, and
little dreaming of the dark figure which pursued
him. At the Grand Platz it was forty yards
behind him; at the Julien Platz it was but twenty;
in Stephen Strasse it was ten, and gaining on him
with panther-like rapidity. Already it was almost
within arm's length of the unsuspecting man, and
the hatchet glittered coldly in the moonlight, when
some slight noise must have reached Strauss's ears,
for he faced suddenly round upon his pursuer.
He started and uttered an exclamation as his eye
met the white set face, with flashing eyes and
clenched teeth, which seemed to be suspended in
the air behind him.
"What, Otto!" he exclaimed, recognising his
friend. "Art thou ill? You look pale. Come
with me to my—— Ah! hold, you madman, hold!
Drop that axe! Drop it, I say, or by heaven I'll
Von Schlegel had thrown himself upon him with
a wild cry and uplifted weapon; but the student
was stout-hearted and resolute. He rushed inside
the sweep of the hatchet and caught his assailant
round the waist, narrowly escaping a blow which
would have cloven his head. The two staggered
for a moment in a deadly wrestle, Schlegel
endeavouring to shorten his weapon; but Strauss
with a desperate wrench managed to bring him to
the ground, and they rolled together in the snow,
Strauss clinging to the other's right arm and
shouting frantically for assistance. It was as well
that he did so, for Schlegel would certainly have
succeeded in freeing his arm had it not been for
the arrival of two stalwart gendarmes, attracted by
the uproar. Even then the three of them found
it difficult to overcome the maniacal strength of
Schlegel, and they were utterly unable to wrench
the silver hatchet from his grasp. One of the
gendarmes, however, had a coil of rope round his
waist, with which he rapidly secured the student's
arms to his sides. In this way, half pushed, half
dragged, he was conveyed, in spite of furious cries
and frenzied struggles, to the central police station.
Strauss assisted in coercing his former friend, and
accompanied the police to the station; protesting
loudly at the same time against any unnecessary
violence, and giving it as his opinion that a lunatic
asylum would be a more fitting place for the
prisoner. The events of the last half-hour had
been so sudden and inexplicable that he felt quite
dazed himself. What did it all mean? It was
certain that his old friend from boyhood had
attempted to murder him, and had nearly succeeded.
Was Von Schlegel then the murderer of
Professor von Hopstein and of the Bohemian Jew?
Strauss felt that it was impossible, for the Jew
was not even known to him, and the Professor
had been his especial favourite. He followed
mechanically to the police station, lost in grief and
Inspector Baumgarten, one of the most energetic
and best known of the police officials, was on duty
in the absence of the Commissary. He was a
wiry little active man, quiet and retiring in his
habits, but possessed of great sagacity and a
vigilance which never relaxed. Now, though he
had had a six hours' vigil, he sat as erect as ever,
with his pen behind his ear, at his official desk,
while his friend, Sub-inspector Winkel, snored in a
chair at the side of the stove. Even the inspector's
usually immovable features betrayed surprise, however,
when the door was flung open and Von
Schlegel was dragged in with pale face and
disordered clothes, the silver hatchet still grasped
firmly in his hand. Still more surprised was he
when Strauss and the gendarmes gave their
account, which was duly entered in the official
"Young man, young man," said Inspector
Baumgarten, laying down his pen and fixing his
eyes sternly upon the prisoner, "this is pretty
work for Christmas morning; why have you done
"God knows!" cried Von Schlegel, covering
his face with his hands and dropping the hatchet.
A change had come over him, his fury and excitement
were gone, and he seemed utterly prostrated
"You have rendered yourself liable to a strong
suspicion of having committed the other murders
which have disgraced our city."
"No, no, indeed!" said Von Schlegel earnestly.
"At least you are guilty of attempting the life
of Herr Leopold Strauss."
"The dearest friend I have in the world,"
groaned the student. "Oh, how could I! How
"His being your friend makes your crime ten
times more heinous," said the inspector severely.
"Remove him for the remainder of the night to
the—— But steady! Who comes here?"
The door was pushed open, and a man came
into the room, so haggard and careworn that he
looked more like a ghost than a human being.
He tottered as he walked, and had to clutch at
the backs of the chairs as he approached the
inspector's desk. It was hard to recognise in this
miserable-looking object the once cheerful and
rubicund sub-curator of the museum and privat-docent
of chemistry, Herr Wilhelm Schlessinger.
The practised eye of Baumgarten, however, was
not to be baffled by any change.
"Good morning, mein herr," he said; "you are
up early. No doubt the reason is that you have
heard that one of your students, Von Schlegel,
is arrested for attempting the life of Leopold
"No; I have come for myself," said Schlessinger,
speaking huskily, and putting his hand up to his
throat. "I have come to ease my soul of the
weight of a great sin, though, God knows, an
unmeditated one. It was I who—— But, merciful
heavens! there it is—the horrid thing! Oh, that I
had never seen it!"
He shrank back in a paroxysm of terror, glaring
at the silver hatchet where it lay upon the floor,
and pointing at it with his emaciated hand.
"There it lies!" he yelled. "Look at it! It
has come to condemn me. See that brown rust
on it! Do you know what that is? That is the
blood of my dearest, best friend, Professor von
Hopstein. I saw it gush over the very handle as
I drove the blade through his brain. Mein Gott, I
see it now!"
"Sub-inspector Winkel," said Baumgarten, endeavouring
to preserve his official austerity, "you
will arrest this man, charged on his own confession
with the murder of the late Professor. I also
deliver into your hands Von Schlegel here,
charged with a murderous assault upon Herr
Strauss. You will also keep this hatchet"—here
he picked it from the floor—"which has apparently
been used for both crimes."
Wilhelm Schlessinger had been leaning against
the table, with a face of ashy paleness. As the
inspector ceased speaking, he looked up excitedly.
"What did you say?" he cried. "Von Schlegel
attack Strauss! The two dearest friends in the
college! I slay my old master! It is magic, I
say; it is a charm! There is a spell upon us! It
is—Ah, I have it! It is that hatchet—that thrice
accursed hatchet!" and he pointed convulsively at
the weapon which Inspector Baumgarten still held
in his hand.
The inspector smiled contemptuously.
"Restrain yourself, mein herr," he said. "You
do but make your case worse by such wild excuses
for the wicked deed you confess to. Magic and
charms are not known in the legal vocabulary, as
my friend Winkel will assure you."
"I know not," remarked his sub-inspector,
shrugging his broad shoulders. "There are many
strange things in the world. Who knows but
"What!" roared Inspector Baumgarten furiously.
"You would undertake to contradict me! You
would set up your opinion! You would be the
champion of these accursed murderers! Fool,
miserable fool, your hour has come!" and rushing
at the astounded Winkel, he dealt a blow at him
with the silver hatchet which would certainly have
justified his last assertion had it not been that, in
his fury, he overlooked the lowness of the rafters
above his head. The blade of the hatchet struck
one of these, and remained there quivering, while
the handle was splintered into a thousand pieces.
"What have I done?" gasped Baumgarten,
falling back into his chair. "What have I done?"
"You have proved Herr Schlessinger's words to
be correct," said Von Schlegel, stepping forward,
for the astonished policemen had let go their grasp
of him. "That is what you have done. Against
reason, science, and everything else though it be,
there is a charm at work. There must be!
Strauss, old boy, you know I would not, in my
right senses, hurt one hair of your head. And
you, Schlessinger, we both know you loved
the old man who is dead. And you, Inspector
Baumgarten, you would not willingly have struck
your friend the sub-inspector?"
"Not for the whole world," groaned the inspector,
covering his face with his hands.
"Then is it not clear? But now, thank Heaven,
the accursed thing is broken, and can never do
harm again. But see, what is that?"
Right in the centre of the room was lying a thin
brown cylinder of parchment. One glance at the
fragments of the handle of the weapon showed
that it had been hollow. This roll of paper had
apparently been hidden away inside the metal
case thus formed, having been introduced through
a small hole, which had been afterwards soldered
up. Von Schlegel opened the document. The
writing upon it was almost illegible from age; but
as far as they could make out it stood thus, in
"Diese Waffe benutzte Max von Erlichingen um
Joanna Bodeck zu ermorden, deshalb beschuldige
Ich, Johann Bodeck, mittelst der macht welche
mir als mitglied des Concils des rothen Kreuzes
verliehan wurde, dieselbe mit dieser unthat. Mag
sie anderen denselben schmerz verursachen den
sie mir verursacht hat. Mag Jede hand die
sie ergreift mit dem blut eines freundes geröthet
“ ‘Immer übel—niemals gut,
Geröthet mit des freundes blut.’ ”
Which may be roughly translated—
"This weapon was used by Max von Erlichingen
for the murder of Joanna Bodeck. Therefore do I,
Johann Bodeck, accurse it by the power which has
been bequeathed to me as one of the Council of
the Rosy Cross. May it deal to others the grief
which it has dealt to me! May every hand that
grasps it be reddened in the blood of a friend!
“ ‘Ever evil, never good,
Reddened with a loved one’s blood.’ ”
There was a dead silence in the room when Von
Schlegel had finished spelling out this strange
document. As he put it down Strauss laid his
hand affectionately upon his arm.
"No such proof is needed by me, old friend," he
said. "At the very moment that you struck at
me I forgave you in my heart. I well know that if
the poor Professor were in the room he would say
as much to Herr Wilhelm Schlessinger."
"Gentlemen," remarked the inspector, standing
up and resuming his official tones, "this affair,
strange as it is, must be treated according to rule
and precedent. Sub-inspector Winkel, as your
superior officer, I command you to arrest me upon
a charge of murderously assaulting you. You will
commit me to prison for the night, together with
Herr von Schlegel and Herr Wilhelm Schlessinger.
We shall take our trial at the coming sitting of
the judges. In the meantime take care of that
piece of evidence"—pointing to the piece of
parchment—"and, while I am away, devote your
time and energy to utilising the clue you have
obtained in discovering who it was who slew Herr
Schiffer, the Bohemian Jew."
The one missing link in the chain of evidence
was soon supplied. On the 28th of December the
wife of Reinmaul the janitor, coming into the bedroom
after a short absence, found her husband
hanging lifeless from a hook in the wall. He had
tied a long bolster-case round his neck and stood
upon a chair in order to commit the fatal deed.
On the table was a note in which he confessed to
the murder of Schiffer the Jew, adding that the
deceased had been his oldest friend, and that he
had slain him without premeditation, in obedience
to some incontrollable impulse. Remorse and
grief, he said, had driven him to self-destruction;
and he wound up his confession by commending
his soul to the mercy of Heaven.
The trial which ensued was one of the strangest
which ever occurred in the whole history of jurisprudence.
It was in vain that the prosecuting
council urged the improbability of the explanation
offered by the prisoners, and deprecated the
introduction of such an element as magic into a
nineteenth-century law-court. The chain of facts
was too strong, and the prisoners were unanimously
acquitted. "This silver hatchet," remarked
the judge in his summing up, "has hung untouched
upon the wall in the mansion of the Graf von
Schulling for nearly two hundred years. The
shocking manner in which he met his death at the
hands of his favourite house steward is still fresh
in your recollection. It has come out in evidence
that, a few days before the murder, the steward had
overhauled the old weapons and cleaned them.
In doing this he must have touched the handle of
this hatchet. Immediately afterwards he slew his
master, whom he had served faithfully for twenty
years. The weapon then came, in conformity with
the Count's will, to Buda-Pesth, where, at the
station, Herr Wilhelm Schlessinger grasped it, and,
within two hours, used it against the person of the
deceased Professor. The next man whom we
find touching it is the janitor Reinmaul, who
helped to remove the weapons from the cart to the
store-room. At the first opportunity he buried it
in the body of his friend Schiffer. We then have
the attempted murder of Strauss by Schlegel, and
of Winkel by Inspector Baumgarten, all immediately
following the taking of the hatchet into the
hand. Lastly, comes the providential discovery of
the extraordinary document which has been read
to you by the clerk of the court. I invite your
most careful consideration, gentlemen of the jury,
to this chain of facts, knowing that you will find a
verdict according to your consciences without fear
and without favour."
Perhaps the most interesting piece of evidence to
the English reader, though it found few supporters
among the Hungarian audience, was that of Dr.
Langemann, the eminent medico-jurist, who has
written text-books upon metallurgy and toxicology.
"I am not so sure, gentlemen, that there is need
to fall back upon necromancy or the black art for
an explanation of what has occurred. What I say
is merely a hypothesis, without proof of any sort,
but in a case so extraordinary every suggestion
may be of value. The Rosicrucians, to whom
allusion is made in this paper, were the most
profound chemists of the early Middle Ages, and
included the principal alchemists whose names
have descended to us. Much as chemistry has
advanced, there are some points in which the
ancients were ahead of us, and in none more so
than in the manufacture of poisons of subtle and
deadly action. This man Bodeck, as one of the
elders of the Rosicrucians, possessed, no doubt, the
recipe of many such mixtures, some of which, like
the aqua tofana of the Medicis, would poison by
penetrating through the pores of the skin. It is
conceivable that the handle of this silver hatchet
has been anointed by some preparation which is
a diffusible poison, having the effect upon the
human body of bringing on sudden and acute
attacks of homicidal mania. In such attacks it is
well known that the madman's rage is turned
against those whom he loved best when sane. I
have, as I remarked before, no proof to support me
in my theory, and simply put it forward for what it
With this extract from the speech of the learned
and ingenious professor, we may close the account
of this famous trial.
The broken pieces of the silver hatchet were
thrown into a deep pond, a clever poodle being
employed to carry them in his mouth, as no one
would touch them for fear some of the infection
might still hang about them. The piece of parchment
was preserved in the museum of the University.
As to Strauss and Schlegel, Winkel and
Baumgarten, they continued the best of friends,
and are so still for all I know to the contrary.
Schlessinger became surgeon of a cavalry regiment;
and was shot at the battle of Sadowa five years
later, while rescuing the wounded under a heavy
fire. By his last injunctions his little patrimony
was to be sold to erect a marble obelisk over the
grave of Professor von Hopstein.